All Mobile Video Looks to Harness the Future of 3D

As the demand for live sports and entertainment productions to be captured in 3D continues to increase, compatible facilities to support this are now becoming readily available. Major sports productions like the FIFA World Cup tournament as well as a number of entertainment events in theatres are driving this demand.

All Mobile Video (AMV), a veteran mobile production company based in New York City that has been at the forefront of a number of industry transitions (they built the first all-digital, standard definition truck ‘Celebrity’ in 1998), is meeting the challenge with a new 3D-centric truck that promises to not only help producers bring 3D to homes and theatres across the United States, but will also serve as a teaching tool.

Called Epic 3D, the new 54ft-long ‘test bed’ expands along 47ft of its curb-side and 33ft on the roadside to more than 15ft wide, and can support standard HD recording with the improved colour recording of the highest quality 4:4:4 colour sampling at multiple frame rates. In a standard high definition 4:2:2 recording, half of the colour information seen is discarded before recording. Using 4:4:4 colour sampling, more colour information is captured, and thus the resulting image is that much more brilliant, making for a captivating 3D experience.

What makes Epic 3D unique, among the handful of similar trucks now becoming available from a number of production companies, is that it was built from the ground up to be 3D-capable, handling the entire production chain, from acquisition through to transmission.

“The idea with Epic 3D is that it is a complete turnkey solution for 3D acquisition,” says Eric Duke, president of AMV. “You won’t need any other vehicle to produce and distribute the finest 3D available today.”

When it hits the road this month, Epic 3D will carry a full complement of Sony HDCAM SR (4:4:4 processing) recording equipment, 18 Sony HDC 1500 HD cameras, six camera rigs made by 3Ality Digital (both side-by-side and beam splitter rigs, each holding two Sony HD cameras and including computer assisted convergence capability), a Sony MVS-8000X production switcher, and a Studer Vista 8 Digital audio console (250 input, 62 fader) for producing full 7.1 surround sound mixes.

On-board Signal Monitoring
The new truck includes a spacious Production area, where the front row accommodates the director, TD and producer, while a back row features six ‘convergence’ positions, one for each 3D camera rig in use. The front wall features 16 Sony LCD displays running off a number of Kaleido-X16 3D multi-viewers from Miranda Technologies.

These monitor wall displays combine stereoscopic 3D sources coming from dual 1.5 Gbps signals from each camera rig (the truck is outfitted with a redundant 3 Gbps infrastructure), and it can also show frame-compatible formats — left and right images side by side, or top and bottom — in a single HD window. Stereoscopic 3D sources can be combined on the same display with HD and SD sources, with full flexibility regarding layout configuration. Each area of the truck, namely Engineering, Production, Audio, Camera Shading and Tape, has its own Kaleido-X16 multi-viewer and layout. The multi-viewer outputs are connected directly to Sony stereoscopic 3D LCD displays, hung in both portrait and landscape orientation.

The Kaleido-X16 multi-viewers allow up to 128 inputs to be displayed across the front wall inside the truck. The control and layout characteristics in stereoscopic 3D are the same as with 2D video, and the Kaleido-X16 can display 3D and 2D signals simultaneously. In addition, HD-SDI outputs from each multiviewer can provide a copy of the multi-viewer display, which can be fed to the router for distribution throughout the truck, and outside for commentary or other requirements. By using high quality stereoscopic 3D monitoring during production, AMV’s convergence crew can fully assess the quality and compare perspectives before switching between two stereoscopic 3D cameras.

In addition to the stereoscopic 3D multiviewers, AMV has also installed interfacing equipment from Miranda, including the new 3DX-3901 3D signal processor, used to convert among the many types of stereoscopic 3D signals on board the truck. The processor also provides correction and electronic alignment of images coming from the 3Ality Digital 3D rigs. When the truck is used for 2D events, the 3DX-3901 can be used as a traditional 3Gbps/HD frame sync and up/down/cross converter, avoiding the cost of extra equipment in the truck.

“We really like what Miranda has developed in terms of 3D monitoring and signal processing,” Duke says, adding that the crew will wear polarised glasses during a production to view the converged 3D sources. “Our crews love the Kaleido-X16 multi-viewers because they are so flexible and can be set up differently for different directors, depending upon how they like to work.”

Making 3D Practical
In order to save clients money, AMV engineers are working on a solution that will enable the truck to produce projects simulcast in both 3D and 1080i or 1080p HD.

“We don’t know yet how it’s going to work for every show, but we will have a solution that will be cost-effective for producers.”

One idea is to have a second production switcher on board (on the back row) to handle the 2D show, using left or right eye only camera sources. However, this adds cost to the client, and 3D production is expensive when compared to a traditional HD project.

To be cost-effective for AMV, the truck had to support the multitude of signal types now requested in HD, plus the new stereoscopic formats. This includes: 1920x1080 resolution up to 60P (progressive frames) per second and standard 4:2:2 colour sampling for HD and stereoscopic 3D (S3D) 1920x1080 progressive or interlaced HD production at 23.98p, 24p, 29.97p, 50i and 60i frames per second; Dual-link (left eye/right eye all to one tape) with standard 4:2:2 colour space sampling to HDCAM SR tape; and the 720/60p HD format.

“Currently, the cost of doing a 3D production is rather high, even by early HD standards,” Duke says. “When we went from SD to HD, maybe we added one more person to the truck. With 3D,we’re adding one person per rig, plus a stereographer, plus a processing engineer. So you could be up to ten people on top of the standard crew that is necessary to produce a standard HD event. And if we do a 2D/3D simulcast, we need a second production switcher and TD. There’s a big difference between 2D and 3D in terms of acquisition and making it all fit into an overall production that today’s viewers have come to expect.”

AMV is also dealing with the challenges of the cumbersome 3D rigs and how they can be positioned to get the most benefit for viewers at home without taking up too many seats within a venue. A 3D hockey game produced and televised by Madison Square Garden Network, in New York City, in March reportedly ‘lost’ about 700 seats to 3D camera positions.

“For years we’re been striving to make HD camera positions smaller and smaller, now we have these large 3D rigs, which must be placed closer to the field,” Duke says. “Now, we have to figure out how to make it work for everyone, because if you take money away from the house, they won’t be so receptive to accommodating a 3D production. That’s the only way this will succeed.”

For now, AMV is excited to get the truck in action and see what happens. Apparently, so is the rest of the industry, which is looking at what AMV is doing to plan their next moves and learn from their experiences. Everyone agrees that 3D production is still in the development stage and events like the FIFA World Cup will go a long way to working out the kinks.

AMV is also outfitting one of its studios in New York for 3D because it feels it can manage the signal processing in the studio a lot easier.

“We tend to go into new territory ahead of everyone. We try to set the standard and stay ahead of the curve. No one knows how 3D is going to be received in the marketplace but we see a great future for 3D projects.”

By By Michael Grottecelli, TVB Europe